Friday, April 20, 2018
I recently took on the audacious task of editing the Bible for the One Percent. (You're welcome! Can I borrow some money?) What follows is the second chapter of Matthew, mercifully stripped of anything that might disturb the status quo. Care to join me? Pick a chapter of the Bible and read it with an eye toward what might "afflict the comfortable," and strip it out! Use the hashtag #onepercentbible so I can find it and show it off. *** Chapter 2 Now after Jesus was born
in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and* assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for** from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother , and flee*** to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you , for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”****
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel , for those who sought the child's life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
* Why would a king be troubled by the birth of a child? This assertion undercuts the inherent virtue and serenity of people in whom God has invested earthly authority and, more to the point, might encourage readers to treat those in authority with suspicion rather than trust and deference.
** Of course Bethlehem is not least among the rulers of Judah—it’s the birthplace of Jesus! It’s reasonable to assume that Bethlehem was as regal a place as befits a Messiah and Lord of the universe. So passages that insinuate that Bethlehem is something less are an unhelpful distraction.
*** Again, there being no reason to fear or resist those in whom God has invested earthly authority, the suggestions in this passage that Jesus' king would do him harm are offensive and imprudent.
**** Such an act of aggression by a king would only ever be undertaken with the best interests of the kingdom in mind; meanwhile, the insinuation that such an act even happened, regardless of the king's motives, would threaten societal cohesion. Hence its omission here.
Monday, April 09, 2018
In case you missed it, I recently undertook the very special challenge of editing the Bible. What follows is the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (ESV) without all those cumbersome bits. The notes that follow offer a rationale for what's been edited out. Be blessed! (For a look at the unabridged, unedited version, go here.) *** Chapter One The book of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.* Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. his mother Mary** was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man*** considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,**** When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. * The historical context of Jesus' birth might be mildly interesting, but it is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that Jesus was, not where he was and through what ethnic lineage he came. ** It's imprudent to offer readers a means of legitimizing parenting out of wedlock, so the details of Jesus' parentage are omitted here. *** These scandalous details of Jesus' earthly parentage are, similarly, omitted in order to eliminate any insinuation of his illegitimacy. **** "God with us" is an assurance that is difficult to square with facts on the ground for most of the people in the world; furthermore, confidence that God is with us here, on this plane, in the midst of difficult circumstances, might encourage social disruption as less fortunate people consider that a society inhospitable to people whom God is with might be a fundamentally unjust society. *** Coming soon: chapter two of Matthew's Gospel, in which we meet Israel's king. You're gonna love it!
Friday, March 23, 2018
You may have heard of it: US President Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, had a personalized Bible, one that he had stripped of (to his mind) obviously errant material - those miracles and otherworldly accounts that couldn't possibly have happened. The resulting Bible would have been much thinner, and the God it chronicled would have been similarly far less robust. Talk about a declaration of independence! At least Jefferson was intellectually honest. It's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't edited the Bible in one way or another. Some people go so far as to add to the Scriptures, whether with more colloquial proverbs and truisms ("God helps those who help themselves") or full narratives that imagine whole new scenes and settings. But more common by far is the editing out, the removal of commands and assertions that offend our sensibilities or trouble our status quos. We may as well be intellectually honest about it. TWEET THIS: It's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't edited the Bible in one way or another. For example, me. From a global perspective, I'm firmly entrenched among the 1 percent of the world's wealthiest people. In my own national context, I'm historically and materially privileged by virtue of my gender and skin color. I'm a DINK - double-income household with no kids in it - and so compared to many of my neighbors I'm sitting relatively pretty. What am I to do with some nagging passages from the inspired Word of God? I'll tell you what I'm to do with them: In the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, I'm to cut them out. What follows is an annotated One Percent Gospel of Matthew. You'll find it much more amenable to the good life, I promise. The values of law and order and the free market, for example, are firmly ensconced. Good news for me and my tribe. As for the rest of it, everything is on the table. As for the rest of you, God help you. TWEET THIS: Good news for me and my tribe. As for the rest of it, everything is on the table. As for the rest of you, God help you. (Text of the Gospel of Matthew is from the English Standard Version.) *** Chapter One The book
of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,[a] and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.*
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she** was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he*** considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).**** When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
* The historical context of Jesus' birth might be mildly interesting, but it is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that Jesus was, not where he was and through what ethnic lineage he came.
** It's imprudent to offer readers a means of legitimizing parenting out of wedlock, so the details of Jesus' parentage are omitted here.
*** These scandalous details of Jesus' earthly parentage are, similarly, omitted in order to eliminate any insinuation of his illegitimacy.
**** "God with us" is an assurance that is difficult to square with facts on the ground for most of the people in the world; furthermore, confidence that God is with us here, on this plane, in the midst of difficult circumstances, might encourage social disruption as less fortunate people consider that a society inhospitable to people whom God is with might be a fundamentally unjust society.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
When I was a kid I would go to mass every Good Friday (a "holy day of obligation," as we called it) to mark the occasion of the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I would sit or stand or kneel as appropriate in the pew as we made our way through the liturgy. That mass would inevitably include a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (this, at least, is how I remember it) in which Pontius Pilate presents Jesus, bloodied from torture, to the crowd and asks what they (what we) want to do with him. "Crucify him!" we would shout from our pews, in accordance with the Scriptures. The priest, playing the part of Pilate, would protest Jesus' innocence, and we would shout once again from our Bibles, "Crucify him!" Pilate/the priest would then declare his own innocence of Jesus' execution, to which we would respond in one voice, "His blood be upon us and our children." And then Jesus would be delivered to his cross. I feel like I witnessed a crucifixion this week. Hastily assembled evidence to suggest that someone might have the temerity to hold a different view of things from The Powers That Be (the PTB, as my friends and I used to refer to people who made our decisions for us). A trial on Twitter. A crowd, caught up in righteous indignation and bloodlust (and, I'd imagine, a fair bit of fear), beating a body bloody before a final chorus of "Away with him!" If this whole thing doesn't kill the guy, I'll be surprised. Our litany at the mass was predicated on the start of the scene, in which Pilate offers the crowd one of two people to pardon: Jesus or Barabbas. This offer was, as the Scriptures tell us, a custom—a courtesy to Jews under imperial rule, perhaps, as they celebrated the Passover (recalling their historic deliverance from imperial rule). It occurs to me that perhaps every year Pilate made the crowd this offer: to pick a prisoner to pardon, and thus condemn another prisoner to be crucified. It occurs to me that this custom was its own kind of liturgy, one that implicated the crowd in every execution. The guilt or innocence of the person to be pardoned and the person to be crucified would be immaterial; the point would be the theater of it. The crowd would have gotten in the habit of sending people to a humiliating death. The Romans sustained their empire for centuries. The crowd remained under imperial control that entire time. There are no firm numbers of people crucified by the Romans, but estimates run to the thousands. Imagine giving your assent to each torturous death. Imagine once a year, from your own birth to your own death, participating in this theater of pardon, inviting the blood of the unlucky runner up on yourself and your children. What would it do to your soul? There were some in the crowd that day who surely remained silent. (It's even possible that some people shouted in favor of pardoning Jesus and crucifying Barabbas. No one shouted such things in the Good Friday masses I've attended. But I do suspect some people, both at mass and in the crowd that day, kept their mouths shut.) Some of those people likely were self-congratulatory: They knew in their hearts that Jesus was innocent of the charges against him. They may have consoled themselves, as Jesus was led away to be crucified, with the confidence that they were better people than the crowd: They knew better, and so they stayed silent. There were others, I'm sure, who remained silent because they didn't have a voice. Mothers and daughters and sisters, the Bible tells us, were at Jesus' crucifixion in silent, mournful witness. Their participation or nonparticipation in Pilate's liturgy was irrelevant to the PTB because they were women, marginalized among the marginalized. I'm sure there were others who had a voice but said nothing out of fear or despair or resignation. After all, in the face of such awful displays of terrific power, what really is there to be said? Imagine that every year you opted out of this theater of pardon, and it went on without you. What would it do to your soul? I feel like I witnessed a crucifixion this week. It wasn't the crucifixion of God. Just another ordinary, run of the mill crucifixion. But I participated in this theater nonetheless, and I watched a man be ushered off to the final humiliation of his life. And then I went back to work. The good news, I suppose, is that there was a time when God took just such a theater, just such a soul-wrenching act, and saved us all through it. And if God can make good of the execution of God—the mass betrayal of God—then I suppose he can make good of every little crucifixion we lend our voice to, every little crucifixion we sit silently and watch. It's Saturday now. May this latest victim's blood be on us and our children. I think God could make some good of it.